Massively visits Stargate Worlds: The interview, part 3

Samuel Axon
S. Axon|07.10.08

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Massively visits Stargate Worlds: The interview, part 3
In part three of our interview with Cheyenne Mountain's studio head Dan Elggren, creative director Chris Klug, art director Howard Lyon, VP of technology Demetrius Comes, and senior marketing manager Kevin Balentine, we discuss endgame content and go into great detail about the graphics and combat.

You mentioned raid content a few minutes ago. Stargate Worlds is up against two huge competitors -- Age of Conan and Warhammer Online -- that have a big focus on the endgame. What are you guys offering that will make people who like that stuff want to play your game instead?

Dan Elggren: Fundamentally different gameplay.

Chris Klug: Our game is fundamentally more of a military conflict game than a fight-the-dragon game. That permeates all the way down to our individual group tactics, as well as the way we design raid content. If you think of our raids as more like military encounters, the fundamental dynamic on the battlefield is a little different than 40 of us trying to take down a dragon. It's more like a capture-the-flag kind of raid, metaphorically, than it is a big boss battle. We're also tying our raid content into our episode pushes, so they're all encapsulated in this ongoing story.

"How you use the environment, which is very unique to any MMO out there, is really going to make a big difference in how the game plays."

Dan Elggren: I think where we were trying to get a little bit earlier about combat, just how combat plays. In typical MMOs you sort of bash each other over the head with swords ... we have a lot more tactics in the battlefield. The biggest difference that you'll see in the game is that the AI's gonna move. It's gonna take cover, it's gonna flank you, it's gonna take different positions on you, and if you aren't taking those positions properly, you're gonna get smoked. How you use the environment, which is very unique to any MMO out there, is really going to make a big difference in how the game plays.

Chris Klug: When you're in a firefight, you find yourself not so much looking at the other mobs, as looking at the next piece of cover I can go take because it'll allow me to get a flanking angle on that set of mobs over there. You're much more aware of the environment and the terrain than you ever were in any other MMO, so the design of the environment plays a much larger part in the way our encounters play out than in a typical MMO.

That sounds like something you would find in a first-person-shooter or something like Gears of War. Are you incorporating any other elements from shooters besides that cover system, or is it other than that your "lock-on, hit-action bar buttons" gameplay?

Chris Klug: Yeah, it's pretty much as you just described. Targeting is MMO targeting. There's a firing mechanic that's happening under the hood. I target you, I hit my fire button, and it's handling all of the targeting for you and the resolution of the damage and all that like a typical MMO would, so that you're free to concentrate the tactics -- meaning what ability you're going to call into play -- and also where you're going to position yourself on the battlefield, because that's what we want people to think about. We don't want people to worry about trying to target someone who's jumping up and down like crazy.

So the game will use a dice roll to check if you hit someone?

Demetrius Comes: Yes, it is still an RPG. Absolutely. The back-end mechanics, all the mathematics are still an RPG. There is no "where was my mouse when I hit the button," ever. But, that said, where you move your player that does change the resolution of those numbers. So depending on what cover is sitting between you and I, and how I move through that cover when I do the damage resolution changes the resolution of the damage numbers.

I understand you guys are using Unreal Engine 3. One of the big discussions among MMO developers is, "how can we make this accessible for people with lower-end PCs?" Especially if you have an IP like Stargate Worlds, where you're trying to reach people who aren't necessarily hardcore gamers.


Demetrius Comes: We are keenly aware of this problem.

Unreal 3 scales back a little bit, but does it run on, say, a notebook with an integrated graphics chip? What's the entry level?

Demetrius Comes: All I can say right now is that we are not using the Unreal engine out of the box. The Unreal engine -- as great as it is -- it is a first-person-shooter engine. It is not an MMO engine. So we've obviously had to make changes to it for it to be an MMO engine. During those changes, we have taken into account the fact that we do want to run on the lower end graphics cards. That said, we won't get them all because we still have Unreal, with all its power, and what the engine can do; it's a beautiful world. But we are working on pushing that min spec down as far as we can possibly get it.

What's something the folks who do have high-end graphics cards will find really exciting about the technology in Stargate Worlds?

Demetrius Comes: I don't know if it's so much about the technology as about some of the things you'll see in the art. First of all, you have an incredibly gifted art staff. And the second thing we have is -- we've spent a good deal of time on this -- most of the Unreal games don't have the specular on the terrain. We went through and made sure that we did. That'll probably only be turned on for the higher end cards, because turning specular on on the terrain chews up quite a bit of GPU cycles.
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